Confessions of a Literary Snob

For several years I was a literary snob. Please don't hold it against me.

I've changed.

I attended LSA (Literary Snobs Anonymous) and am proud to say that I am fully recovered.

Let me explain.

I've always loved to read. For birthdays and Christmas the gifts I enjoyed the most were books. (It's still true.)

After I went off to college I discovered I had a knack for writing. Along with a host of Journalism and Communication courses I started taking several upper division English classes.

One of the problems with English classes (especially at the college level) is many of them have a warped view of what makes a good book. Instead of concentrating on things such as character development or plot, they focus on the writing style. Yes, much of the "great literature" they drone on about in upper division English courses are written so well no one can understand them.

But you're told who cares whether or not most people can comprehend what the author is trying to say. Good literature isn't meant to be enjoyed, only decoded.

Then you're given the secret literary decoder (a.k.a. literary criticism) to find out what the author really meant. Using this secret decoder ring you learn that Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass is really about inner feminine rage. The Great Gatsby? Incest. The Sun Also Rises? Environmental destruction. (Is it any wonder English majors have a hard time being taken seriously?)

I graduated college with a warped sense of what makes a good book, I made my way out into the real world.

Time passed.

I started dating Marathon Girl. Come to find out she's a voracious reader. (In the first six months of this year alone she's read 35 books.) On one of our good dates we start talking books. I ask Marathon Girl to name one of her favorite authors.

"Michael Connelly," she said.

I thought "Michael who?"

Not wanting to sound stupid after telling Marathon Girl I was fairly well read I asked her to name some books he's written.

Marathon Girl rattled off a long list of books.

I muttered something about reading one or two of them then quickly changed the topic of conversation.

The next time I was at a bookstore, I located some Michael Connelly books.

My well-read inner voice screamed "No! Don't touch it! It's not for those with a well developed taste in literature like yourself."

I started to read one of his books. My well-read inner voice shrieked and died.

The next thing I know I'm four chapters into the book. A voice over the intercom announced that the store was closing in 10 minutes. I bought the book (but tuck it under my coat as I left least anyone I know would see I bought). The next day is Saturday. By noon I had finished the book and that night was able to talk with Marathon Girl about it.

She recommended more books and more authors. I start reading them and discover many of the books "well read" people shun are actually quite good. The writing style may not be that of, say, Tobias Wolff, but books are enjoyable authors do a great job developing the plot and creating characters readers care about -- something more "literary" authors have a difficult time doing.

(Please note that I'm not saying an author can't write well and have believable characters and a good plot, I'm simply stating that many "great" writers get caught up too much on the style of their writing instead of substance of their novel. )

Anyway, this last weekend I finally caught up with Marathon Girl on all the Michael Connelly reading. I finished The Last Coyote and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Connelly does a masterful job of portraying a real but sympathetic character in detective Harry Bosch. This book is interesting because you see Bosch at the low point in his career -- he's on administrative leave from the LAPD, his house was seriously damaged by an earthquake, and his last romance has just left him. But instead of letting all this sink him into a depression, Bosch starts working on an the 30-plus-year-old murder case of a Hollywood prostitute who happens to be his mother.

Though English majors you may not be able to reek havoc with their secret decoder rings on it, it's a good, enjoyable read.

And thanks to Marathon Girl for opening my eyes to other good authors.

The Last Coyote 3 stars (out of 4)